Dear Yoga Journal,
I love “Yoga Journal” day. That’s what I call it when your mag shows up in my mailbox. I always set aside time that I can curl up and settle in with a hot cup of tea to read it.
As a curvy yoga teacher and proponent of Health at Every Size (HAES), I’m sure you can imagine my excitement when I flipped to “Measure for Measure,” an article describing one woman’s story about food and weight loss, in your most current edition. I thought to myself, “Dr. Linda Bacon, HAES and the word ‘fat’ are introduced in the first paragraph, OMG! Curvy yogis and fat acceptance are finally about to get some page time!”
Unfortunately, though, that little word—fat—sent the article rapidly downhill away from the HAES principles raised at the beginning and onto a path of shame and dieting.
I think it’s important for people to share their story; that’s part of what makes us us, and everyone has the right to do that. The intent of this letter isn’t to critique the author’s experience. Rather, it’s to highlight the fact that weight loss is a minority experience, and sharing stories about it sets people up to feel ashamed if they can’t have the same results. Sure, some people can lose weight in the short-term, but after five years (and often one), that weight is back—and then some. No place is this point better proven than in Dr. Bacon’s groundbreaking book Health at Every Size.
Although this article is not presented as a “diet plan” for people to follow, the author promotes intuitive eating while “measuring out three ounces of cooked salmon.” These mixed messages inspire people to believe that they can have the same results, setting them up to feel like failures if they don’t. And while the tone of the article is about honoring your body, the not-so-subtle subtext is that when someone says you’re fat, and when you’ve been eating “pound cake made with organic butter, topped with organic peaches and creme fraiche” that you better shape up–literally. Even if people agree and want to follow suit, the truth is that they can’t; if two people eat the exact same amount of calories and do the exact same amount of exercise, they will experience different results, often greatly so.
And here’s the other thing: regardless of people’s beliefs about the likelihood of weight loss, using self-shame (as in the “sting” of the word fat) to get there is never going to work. Dr. Bacon describes this problem eloquently: “Few of us are at peace with our bodies, whether because we’re fat or because we fear becoming fat. Every time you make fat the problem, these are side effects, however unintended they may be.”
So this is a loving request from me, one of your curvy readers: please don’t disguise dieting articles as body positivity. Yoga has been life-changing for me and for many other curvy people I know. It has helped me embrace who I am, appreciate the amazing things my body can do, work towards health regardless of my size, and realize that practicing yoga while curvy is pretty fantastic. I hope you’ll think as much of yoga as I do.
As a plus-sized yoga teacher who often gets a “you are?” look when introducing myself as such, I couldn’t agree more with Anna’s letter. I actually put down my issue of YJ when I read the article she mentions –feeling stung. I hope that YJ starts to apply more wisdom to their pieces on yogic eating and beyond that, that we will see some curvy yogis and yoginis on the cover and within its pages. If yoga is really for every body, then why wouldn’t we?
Ladies, I couldn’t agree more! I went to a YJ conference two years ago, as a large woman who’s also a children’s yoga teacher, and with several years of practice under my belt (so to speak). To my surprise and dismay, I got “the (??!!!) look” in two of my classes there, which put a black cloud over the whole, very expensive weekend. It was hard to relish in learning with masters, to which I’d so looked forward, when I was trying to hide tears from classmates who clearly thought I didn’t ‘deserve’ to be there. Yes, I know their own issues caused the unkindness, but I’d always assumed that the Yoga world, especially the Yoga Journal world, would be a safe and non-judgmental place.
I couldn’t agree more Elizabeth and Anna. May I mention here a great book called ‘Yoga from the Inside’ by Christina Frosolono Sell which addresses amongst many other things the war we can wage on our bodies. If we truly practice in the moment then our practices are not governed by ‘ghost of body past’ or ‘ghost of body future’ that is, what I used to look like or what I want to look like (credit to Donna Farhi for this line of thought).
There are no physical rules about who can teach and represent the teachings of Yoga. The media could take a Yogic approach and be more inclusive, treating all as part of the one.
I would love to see ‘real’ bodies doing yoga in the magazines and videos. But I fear that is not coming soon.
In real life, one of my favorite teachers has bigger, softer thighs than I do, but she is stronger and more pliable than I am in most asanas. And I LOVE watching her practice!
It was during my YTT that I realized I, too, am strong and beautiful. Especially in my practice. In my element. Yoga won’t help me lose weight, not really. But it will be, and IS, my touchstone for self-acceptance and love.
I found the article as I do most articles in most magazines: a nice story of one person’s individual journey/success/struggle. I’ll always be curvy. And I’ll never be a flat-tummy, lean thighs, size zero yogini. But I’ll always be beautiful! 🙂
Yup. I’m a big guy (I’d be a brick outhouse with no extra weight!) and I teach yoga. I’m working real hard on getting my weight down and I find it real difficult. Mainly because of all the contrasting information.
One of the biggest issues is the fact that lots of people consider weight gain to be about diet or exercise. My experience is that this isn’t always true.
Yoga brings awareness to what we need as an individual and if we stay present, we can find contentment with who we are at our optimum health. But there’s a certain amount of stress put on the shoulders of the more shapely yoga teachers to look a certain way. Mainly because of magazines like yoga journal.
I love yoga journal, but it would be nice to see some more cury peeps in their pages.
Some of the greatest teachers have been people that didn’t shape up to the YJ image… John Friend for example.
This is an amazing letter. I work at a yoga studio where my students express disgust with the Yoga “Slim” class that is newly offered on the schedule. “That’s not yoga!” they exclaim.
Rather, I’m a fan of Kripalu catalog covers that represent bodies of different age, weight, race and sex; and have read plenty of letters to YJ encouraging more diversity on their own covers. Yoga Journal can build a broader subscription base if they appeal to everyone!
my own weight gain of 40 lbs (i’m 5’6″) over a decade crept up on me so slow i didn’t know it’d happened; and the two years it took to lose it (and the habits) were a long 2 yrs, which’ve now stretched into a continual mindful effort the last 3 years to “maintain”
i found my first substantial 3rd party (ie, outside my self & family) validation of the type of care and thought and compassion i’ve had to develop for myself, while studying an afaa fitness text:
“Destroying the Myths”
“Thinness is the goal of exercise.” – “As long as this myth continues, there will be an enormous number of people who will not be able to succeed at exercise. Finding pleasure in movement is the process, and the process of integrating pleasurable exercise into a healthy lifestyle is the ultimate goal. Instead of emphasizing thinness, it is more appropriate to promote feeling strong, fit, and empowered.”
p. 395, “Fitness: Theory & Practice”, Fifth Edition, AFAA, © 2010
i give them a lot of credit for a lot of what i’ve learned the last year, but i don’t feel it’s misplaced
best of all things to ya’ll, and me 😉
Yes! This! O to the MG!
Fat and proud and yogaing,
I think the most important thing we can do is take action, just like Anna did. Right now, the media is winning this war of making women (or men) feel inadequate about their weight and bodies – and making yoga about something its not. We have to write letters, speak out, come together and make change. I believe that change is possible, because change is happening all the time, every single moment. That’s what yoga teaches us, right? Your body is never going to be like it was yesterday, or your practice, or your relationships, or your life. We are always evolving, just like the world around us. I guess what I am trying to say is… don’t give up hope! If we can channel our frustration, anger, and pain towards real, tangible action – then we are doing our yoga. So speak up! Reach out! The only way the media/society is going to change is if we highlight the problem, yes, but then offer up something different, over and over and over again. I think that all of your comments are beautiful, and know that their of plenty of yogis out there who feel exactly as you do.
Wow, there are a lot of us curvy yoga teachers out there! We need to unite! And do more to advance the idea of size acceptance and that yoga is not just for the slim and pretzel-like… I think the self consciousness we feel after the “you’re a yoga teacher? Really?” experiences keeps us from being more vocal advocates. But the real story is what a difference we could make for perspective students that don’t see themselves or their “types” currently represented in yoga communities and conferences. Interesting!
Thank you … I feel that I, too, am waging the war, and it isn’t alone. Additionally, I may add, that the instructor’s in-my-face with the aggressive adjustments, and the circus-like demos/challenges to students in class has really the opposite of the intended effect on me and ensures that I take my business elsewhere, soon, and permanently
Do people going to sleep hungry-dieting/obsessing over food/bending-twisting-hoisting the body into submission = something spiritual? Are they practicing ahimsa? Are they practicing mindfulness?
They COULD produce a spiritual state. But my life needs me to not be a space cadet!
It is one thing to accept our physical form/weight level/size as it is right now, and try to use yoga to work productively with this reality.
It is quite another thing to claim that weight level has no effect on health, and that one can be healthy at ANY weight (or healthy at ANY size, as Linda Bacon so glibly puts it). Bacon’s work, as outlined in her HAES manifesto, is supported by research that is at best outdated and of questionable relevancy. To make such a claim based on such shoddy research is, at best, a case of denial, and, at worse, downright irresponsible.
I wonder who is bankrolling Bacon’s research?
Who is bankrolling all the “research” that supports your claim?
I know for a fact that the bacon industry is bankrolling Dr. Bacon’s research!
Great site web Αurélie
Not a yoga teacher but a fat professional competitive dancer and HAES practitioner. I just wanted to say that this is a wonderful letter and I appreciate that you had the maturity and mindfulness to explain your point of view while still being respectful to those who might choose a different path, rather than attacking someone else’s choices about their own path to health and suggesting that your way is the only way. Beautifully done.
I’m all for encouraging people to feel comfortable about themselves, but the fact remains that being overweight or obese is not just an issue of body image and self-acceptance, but one that profoundly affects a person’s health and quality of life. I was not familiar with Dr. Bacon and HAES before reading this letter, but I find the assertions that she makes in the excerpt linked above both reckless and in blatant contradiction to standard medical opinion and my own real-world experience. Bacon calls the idea that “anyone who is determined can lose weight and keep it off” a fallacy because most people who lose weight gain it back again, as though the process of regaining weight were somehow independent from the psychological factors that contributed to the initial weight loss. Today, almost 2/3 of Americans are overweight or obese, a percentage that represents a significant increase over previous decades. That statistic alone is enough to disprove Bacon’s claim that being overweight is a kind of biological inevitability. If previous generations possessed the self control to keep themselves from becoming overweight, then there is no reason it can’t be done now. I find that raising these points with people who are overweight often makes them defensive and uncomfortable, but as long as my health insurance payments continue to fund their insulin shots and heart medications, I reserve the right to call them on the faultiness of their logic and the self-enabling nature of their beliefs.
Thank you for talking about this! I am a yoga teacher, normal weight for my height, but my “past ghost body” struggled with eating disorders for years. When I get my yoga journal I too am excited to snuggle in with it. But it does trigger the quest for perfection thing somewhere inside of me. When I see the bauatiful and talented Katherine Budig, without an ounce of fat or stretch marks, when I can see the breastbones on the cover model, it makes me want to be a lovely and thin perfect as they. I recently let myself gain about 5 or six pounds which makes me look like a lady of 34, not a 12 year old boy. but if you compare the models of ” Lose 5 Pounds of Fat in 12 Days” Shape Magazine to Yoga Journal, you will see the same thing. Perfection. And isn’t yoga bigger than that? A previous responder was right in pointing out that action is the key here. I will write to “Yoga Journal” right now. And thank you agiain for being a voice.
I just perused the article at a newsstand. It cost me a couple Sanity Watchers points … !
Need size acceptance community consciousness-raising pronto to work off those Sanity Watchers points pronto!
So what’s with the “curvy” euphemism? All of her points are wonderful, yet she resorts to the same old ladymag girly-speak to make them. Are you curvy, or fat? Not the same thing. If fat acceptance is your goal, why succumb to the linguistic just-us-gals wink of “curvy” when it’s not what you mean — but is far more acceptable and nonthreatening?
Let’s hear it for the Kapha bods!
Kapha-Vata in the house!
Any yoga teacher has their hands full trying to teach me headstand
You can’t shut me up!
Kapha-Vata in the house!!
Any yoga teacher has their hands full trying to teach me headstand
You can’t shut me up!
Can’t we just focus on the sports that we enjoy doing? I’m glad to see anyone doing a physical activity that they enjoy doing, and yoga is one of those greats because it stretches, strengthens and relaxes at the same time. Losing weight and gaining strength should be more about doing something we enjoy and not about slogging to the gym at 5:30 a.m. to work out on machines just so we can lose weight. That’s NOT fun and we won’t succeed that way. Find something you love and just do it. I’m tired of magazines and programs that show perfectly sized women and muscle-bound men. There are different body types. Thank God we’re not all the same.
And curvy people have nothing to do with insurance rates. Most of us have some sort of unhealthy habit. I’m not going to point at someone else when I know that I’m a healthy size but I could still be in much better health myself. I’m proud of everyone who gets up and does something they enjoy to better their life and their health. Anorexia is the other side of a very unhealthy coin, and I’ve been there. I’m a strong and healthy size 12 who at one point got down to a size 4 (yep, just like those scary anorexia pictures you see on TV). Kudos to us all for making the most of our lives and our yoga. Be happy to be you. Namaste. I admire all of you very much.
Yeah. This piece was diet advice masquerading as yogic philosophy. It was hardly insightful and, I agree, painful to those sensitive to body-image talk. ESPECIALLY body-image talk combined with yoga-talk. Wrong.
there is a huge difference between accepting your situation and telling yourself there’s no problem. you can accept the fact that you are lugging around 30 extra pounds, but you should also admit that
this is not good for your body, and that you have an obligation to
ease the extra burden on your heart. Slim yoginis have an equally important obligation not to JUDGE.
It’s unbelievable that in this day in age there is still so much shame still attached to being overweight. Having just delved into the history of obesity studies and weight loss, in this entire past CENTURY there has barely been any proof (and what little exists is very questionable) that weight gain is a result of overeating and underexercising (or rather, “gluttony and sloth”). This paradigm actually is a result of just one researcher’s work. All the other science that exists has never found a connection between weight gain and overeating/underexercising, in fact it has found the opposite.
The result of this whole idea of “you’re fat because you eat too much and move too little” has but BLAME on the individual, and therefore the SHAME. This pushes these individuals to make poor choices in dieting and overexcercising in an attempt to avert judgement, imbalancing them even further, and moving them away from the physioligical (and emotional) healing they really need.
Research has shown weight gain to be primarily an inflammatory condition, involving imbalances of the endocrine system. For a long time it was known that obesity correlated with poverty, NOT with abundance. Calorie restriction diets were referred to as “semi-starvation diets” by the scientific community well into the 1970’s, and many respectable journals make mention of calorie/fat restriction and even exercise having a negligible effect on weight loss.
Seeing a heavy person these days conjures up images of empty Haagen Daz containers and Twinkie wrappers hidden under their bed and chocolate bon-bons tucked away their pockets. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many of these people are actually malnutritioned and imbalanced. They are not big because they overeat – they overeat BECAUSE they are big, since larger body size requires higher caloric intake.
I look forward to the day when people drop this ridiculously ignorant idea that “if you’re fat, it’s your own damn fault, you should simply stop eating so much and get your ass to the gym.” I wish I could yell, “STOP it already!!” off a mountain.
If anyone wants to read more about the science behind weight loss (as well as the BAD science behind the erroneous ideas still being promoted today), google this book: Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes. Very, very eye opeing.
As the writer of “Measure for Measure,” I first want to thank people for taking the time to read and respond to it. I’d like to just add a few things to the discussion, some of which I go into more deeply in my book on which the article is based.
I believe that no matter what your weight or size, you have the right to feel good and happy in your skin. I feel that no matter what your weight and size, yoga is a magnificent practice. I did yoga and felt beautiful when I was a size 18. But I didn’t feel healthy. Yes, I adapted my yoga practice to take into account my size, but my knees still hurt, I was often out of breath, and at mid-life, I knew I was courting some bigger health issues if I didn’t take a deeper look at my relationship with food.
We all have belief systems we hold dear. Mine was that as long as I was eating healthy food, I could eat as much of it as I wanted, and that my intuition would tell me when to stop. I wish it had. But this approach did not work for me. So yes, now I measure my food – or some of it anyway. No, I do not view this as a diet and this is not just a matter of semantics. I view it as a practice, just like yoga. Measuring my food actually brings greater mindfulness to how and what I eat. I appreciate my food more and experience more joy when I eat.
When Dr. Bacon called me fat, she meant it clinically and she was correct. When I wrote that Dr. Bacon’s words “stung” – I mean that the word cut through my defenses and helped me see myself more clearly. She didn’t say it to hurt. She didn’t say it to have me change anything about myself. I actually laughed out loud because the “F” word had seen the light of day and that was freeing. It was this clear seeing that was my catalyst for change. And no, I didn’t loathe and hate myself or transform myself from a place of anger. I do not believe any significant change comes from anywhere other than kindness. Since that day, I have lost several sizes but there are many people who would still call me fat, or curvy, or zaftig, take your pick. It frankly doesn’t matter. What matters is that I feel healthy and strong.
Weight and body acceptance strikes us way down deep. Everyone wants to be accepted, and everyone has their own belief system around that, which often they feel called to defend: from fat is beautiful to fat is terrible; thin is good, thin is bad; weight matters, weight doesn’t matter; or even what the word fat itself means and whether or not we should ever use it. Not everyone who is heavy wants to lose weight, or can. Not everyone who is thin wants to gain weight, or can. Yoga has taught me that the body is an excellent vehicle for becoming more present, for waking up — but you also must be honest what you wake up to. My journey was to find balance. Every journey is individual and my story is my own.
Hmmmm…interesting comments here; they gave me a different perspective of the article and how some might interpret it. For myself, I found the article to be very inspirational and a bit of a gift to me at this particular time in my life. I am currently on a weight loss plan and I have been struggling with cravings. The struggles the author presented on listening to what your body needs vs. what you are simply used to eating, as well as finding appropriate portion sizes was very validating. I too was shocked to see what normal portion sizes really are! I would be lying if I said that I was losing weight purely for health reasons (I’m as body conscious as the next person); however that is my main reason. I’m an almost 40 year old women with high cholesterol and a horrendous family history of heart attacks and strokes on both sides of my family. I have 2 young boys and I would like to be around for them (and myself) for a long, long time. Yoga has always been a part of that journey, but I know that my weight will play a factor as well. I will never be a skinny girl, nor do I strive to become one. Rather, I want to be a healthy and fit mom who continues to make good, healthy food choices, in the appropriate amount, and who is able to listen and supply my body with what it really needs.
i really appreciated the author’s remarks. makes perfect sense to me! not that yoga journal is perfect 🙂
What was YJ’s response?!
Lady you are not curvy you are dangerously obese you have an eating disorder. Too many people practicing now are overweight and not fit.justifying obesity is a disorder.
How do you think “curvy” and “very curvy” and otherwise (and the walking skeletons, as gaunt and corpselike they may be),who want to practice yoga get fit (or fitter) ? Yoga has cardio benefits just like a brisk walk (and I have foot problems and cannot walk briskly), and strength-training benefits that supplant my gym.
Nutrition adjustment is my first line of defense, but that is not enough.
There is no reason for us not to practice yoga in public until we are a certain size.
If you are to be believed, then children are “too small” to practice yoga.
People in wheelchairs look “too short” to practice yoga.
Just for that, I will continue to vote every day for Anna Guest-Jelley in the YJ talent search. I urge others to do the same:
gotta agree with this :
“There is no reason for us not to practice yoga in public until we are a certain size”
the only way to cross the road is by crossing the road; best of wishes for you yogini5 😉
Love this. The attitude is the same in any sport.. Just try being a “generously sized” runner and triathlete.
Be healthy, move a lot. Learn to love what, who and how you are. The radiant health and maybe, maybe weight loss.. come as a result.
I’ve lost almost 110 lbs over the past 3 years and kept it off thanks to yoga (Bikram style) and most recently, running. I am also a Bikram teacher. When I started teaching I was 45 lbs heavier than I am now. One of my MENTORS told me at training.. “you know you don’t look like a yoga teacher.. ”
I carried the shame of that statement long enough. Now my real-life sized body, attitude and health is what CONNECTS me to my students. Not all yoga students want to see sticks on the podium too.
I canceled my YJ sub because of some of this attitude, plus the constant advertising of food, clothes and “retreats.” IMO yoga is about a lifestyle, not fancy shorts, overpriced mats, and organic tea.
The Yogini Triathlete
Ever seen a buff, ripped, tight-bunned yogi from India–where it all began? DONT THINK SO! Yoga+Marketing+Media=$$$$
I fear that I’m not sure what “curvy” means anymore. There is a clinical definition of “obese” and I belive this woman fits it. Obesity is defined as a BMI of 30 or higher.
Yes, I see yoga magazines and other media as frighteningly similar to fashion magazines.
There is no reason why Ms. Guest-Jelley shouldn’t enjoy yoga, or tennis or dinner parties or any other form of amusement. People should not be rude to her. But she is not a role model, she is not healthy.
I think this form of uncritical “love yourself no matter what” is detrimental to our society. The numbers for obesity in the United States (compared to the numbers for anorexia, for instance) are unhealthy, very scary and very expensive, for a country with no public health care in the midst of a global economic crisis with an employment rate of more than 10 percent.
About one-third of U.S. adults (33.8%) are obese. Approximately 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2—19 years are obese. http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/trends.html
It is especially scary to me that people such as Ms Guest Jelley, instead of working on healthy lifestyle choices, are merely decrying prejudice. Ms. Guest Jelley is obese and is therefore at risk of the following life-threatening ailments:
•Coronary heart disease
•Type 2 diabetes
•Cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon)
•Hypertension (high blood pressure)
•Dyslipidemia (for example, high total cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides)
•Liver and Gallbladder disease
•Sleep apnea and respiratory problems
•Osteoarthritis (a degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone within a joint)
•Gynecological problems (abnormal menses, infertility)
The medical care costs of obesity in the United States are staggering. In 2008 dollars, these costs totaled about $147 billion (Finkelstein, 2009).
Like yoga inversions, maintaining a healthy body is a struggle, but unlike yoga inversions, it is absolutely necessary for the survival of the individual and of the society. Hard work is personally enriching.
As we have hopefully realized with the financial crisis, simmering for over twenty years of deregulation, an uncritical acceptance of our flaws and unhealthy attitudes will only take us so far.
The line, “please don’t disguise dieting articles as body positivity” had me raising my first in the air!
I recently gave a chat at Pasadena City College about body image in the Asian-American community (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_nO7StCaB0&list=UUntzgYXLiKbAvKv_TEn_xCw&feature=plcp&context=C408627cFDvjVQa1PpcFNpcHDxmoRZQiEonyUvFYdXxyWRB0KhukQ=). And, having suffered for almost two decades from a battle with anorexia, bulimia, and body dysmorphia, I know how hard it is to get to a place where we can love and accept our bodies.
Thankfully, yoga is huge for that (please excuse the pun). 😉 Because I’m Asian, I feel it’s been even more challenging to have an athletic build that does not fit the Chinese-American norm. I have boobs (yay!) and super muscular legs and broad shoulders, which have helped me when it comes to surfing, climbing, and all the other activities that I love to do — including CrossFit. 🙂
The shift starts within, as yoga constantly teaches us, and while it’s hard to “fight the good fight” against all the messages we’re constantly told about having to look one way or the other, I also love this quote by E.E. Cummings, “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting.”
If you’d like to chat more about learning how to be ourselves no matter what, I’d love to share ideas:
Oh boy, it’s THIS article. Again. Again?
Why do people even waste their time with YJ?
Recent article in the Health Section of the NY Times
It pains me to read this article. Over and over the only space recognized for body image issues is being “fat” or the need to loose weight. “Few of us are at peace with our bodies, whether its because we are fat or fear becoming fat”… Well I am not at peace with my body and it has nothing to do with being fat or worried about becoming fat,, it’s quite the opposite. I want to gain weight. I feel so unwomanly. I have lost all my curves (which hardly exist in the first place) and I feel all alone in this. Everything I read about weight issues has to do with loosing weight. And even this article reinforces all of my insecurities. I read this and think, women may feel fat, but they probably at least feel like a woman. I don’t want to get n a bathing suite. I don’t want to have a lover. And it has nothing to do with feeling fat. I wish I could feel supported n my journey. It makes me want to say I wish I was fat.